“Strong lives are motivated by dynamic purposes; lesser ones exist on wishes and inclinations” (Kenneth Hildebrand)

My cats enjoy their daily routine of playing in the garden – they can’t wait to get out in the morning and spend time stalking whatever moves and chasing each other all over the place. To get them in of an evening would be a battle, to say the least, if it wasn’t for Pavlov’s classical conditioning experimentation that he did with dogs towards the end of the 19th Century (learning procedures in which a biologically potent stimulus, e.g. food, paired with a previously neutral stimulus, e.g. a bell, produces a response, e.g. salivation). Although not dogs, the cats, likewise, respond promptly to a banging of the spoon on the side of a dish and they scamper inside eagerly. They are ‘conditioned’ now and know that the sound of the spoon means supper. I am grateful!

Without even attempting to evaluate Pavlov’s results and much of the dialogue over subsequent behavioural and response theories, I suggest that we have all been conditioned in one way or another – for example, our attitudes are habits of thought formed over time through exposure to people, events and ideas over the course of the experiences of our lives (our upbringing, neighbourhood, education, exposure, etc.). This repository of acquired attitudes acts like a subconscious computer operating system and programme for controlling behaviour. These thought habits not only have an impact on how we see and react to the world around us, but also on how we see ourselves. Attitudes are not necessarily based on reality, but more on how we think and feel about something – this then typically becomes ‘our reality’. Because our attitudes reflect what we think, feel and believe about ourselves and the surrounding world, they effectively shape our expectations of life on a daily basis and these expectations directly influence the nature of our behaviour.

During our early years, our parents influenced our thoughts and beliefs strongly. Because we were unable to ascertain right and wrong for ourselves at that time, we accepted our parents’ attitudes as truth. Unfortunately, many of these primary influences were negative (current influences are probably no better) and started instilling fear, anxiety and protection mechanisms into our processing system – a firewall protecting our inner selves. Seemingly insignificant sayings (common things our parents and others mentioned, like ‘better safe than sorry’, ‘why can’t you study diligently like your sister?’ or ‘don’t bite off more than you can chew’), worked together and probably produced negative conditioning. Their effects can surface repeatedly in adults and, unless checked, can hinder the achievement of potential.

Fortunately, there is good news – as attitudes are habitual thought processes, if negative, they can be ‘undone’. Successful people routinely ‘discard’ thoughts that hold them back and rely on an inner sense of drive to provide energy for progress. Personally motivated individuals are driven by powerful dreams and aspirations and their unwavering beliefs in their abilities and worthiness. Unlike external motivation, which is often short-lived and regularly used in a manipulative fashion by others, personal motivation is far more enduring as it originates in an individual’s core beliefs and is closely aligned to the priorities of the individual’s needs. Self-motivated individuals, therefore, deliberately replace negative thinking with the ‘right habits’ of thought to empower themselves to live the ‘right behaviours’ to assist them in reaching their goals. Kenneth Hildebrand, author of Achieving Real Happiness, notes: “Multitudes of people, drifting aimlessly to and fro without a set purpose, deny themselves such fulfilment of their capacities and the satisfying happiness which attends it. They are not wicked, they are only shallow”. On the other hand, however, a strong sense of dynamic purpose – that unique contribution that needs to be made – is typically tied to your giftedness, talents, personality and life outlook and values. This dynamic purpose becomes the fountain of your energy.

Negative conditioning can be overcome by a strong sense of dynamic purpose. It does require the discarding of self-limiting attitudes and the subsequent adoption of personal values and positive attitudes that will drive the right behaviours to give you a better chance of success.